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Established: 1912



Before the establishment of the Union of South Africa in 1910, public works activities in the four colonies were organised broadly as follows:

Cape Colony. The Secretary for Public Works was the permanent head of the department, which was also responsible for the irrigation and lighthouses and for the supervision of main roads. Incumbents were GH FOWKE (1902-4), RN HARVEY (1905) and Charles MURRAY (1906-10) the Scottish poet, who was retained at the head of the Union’s Public Works Department until formally appointed Secretary in 1912.

Transvaal. The designation of the permanent head of the department, which also controlled roads and bridges, was Chief Engineer and Secretary.

Orange River Colony. The Director of Public Works was the permanent head of the department which also had roads, bridges and irrigation under its control.

Natal. The Surveyor-General was for some time responsible for public works, roads and bridges, which were subsequently entrusted to the Department of the Attorney-General. The designation of the head of the department which dealt with them was Chief Engineer and Secretary.

At the establishment of the Union all public works and other property owned by the four colonies were vested in the Governor-General-in-Council. The control over all these government buildings and also over all bridges connecting two provinces (previously colonies) was assigned to a Public Works Department which had been created especially for that purpose.

In the course of time control over provincial and certain other government buildings was transferred to the respective provincial administrations and the departments of state concerned, including Forestry and, later, Community Development. Since 1 April 1968 the Department of Posts and Telegraphs has been responsible for its own accommodation requirements. The Department of Public Works, however, undertakes the planning and arranged for the erection of all new buildings costing more than R20 000, on a recoverable basis, for the Department of Posts and Telegraphs, which is responsible for providing sites. The more important functions of the Department of Public Works are the provision, allocation and maintenance of and control over the effective utilisation of accommodation for the government departments (including offices and residences for the Republic’s consular and diplomatic missions abroad). This entails responsibility for the design, planning and construction of public buildings; of certain university campuses and technical colleges; of interprovincial bridges (excepting those on national and special roads); of buildings for the Defence Department, including hospitals and highly technical buildings; of terminal buildings at airports; of prestige residences; and of certain State-subsidised bodies such as museums, art galleries, State libraries and zoological gardens. The department also undertakes the maintenance of certain historic buildings and renders financial assistance to certain bodies responsible for the maintenance of monuments and war graves. Furthermore, it leases accommodation required for State purposes and also furnishes all State-owned and hired accommodation as well as prestige residences in the Republic and abroad.

In addition, the administration of the Acts governing the engineers’, architects’ and quantity surveyors’ professions and functions concerning the Building and Construction Advisory Council are undertaken by the Department. South African buildings, installations and monuments abroad are also the responsibility of the department.

Secretaries of Public Works have been: Charles MURRAY (1912-24), OW STATEN (1925-31), JA MacPHAIL (1931-32), JS CLELAND (1932-39), CA CILLIERS (1939-40), TAF RHODES (1940-46), AA EALS (1946-54), Karel ROOD (1955-66), J DRIESSEN (1966-69), A HOWARD (1969- ).

[Anon. Public Works, Department of. in Potgieter, DA (Ed in Chief). 1973. Standard Encyclopaedia of South Africa (SESA). Cape Town: Nasou. Volume 9: pp. 183-184]

All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.


Bakker, Karel A, Clarke, Nicholas J. 2014. Eclectic ZA Wilhelmiens : A shared Dutch built heritage in South Africa. Pretoria: Visual Books. pp 87, 88

Fisher, Roger & Clarke, Nicholas. 2014. Architectural Guide : South Africa. Berlin: DOM Publishers. pp 12

Greig, Doreen. 1971. A Guide to Architecture in South Africa. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. pp 100

Chapters in books citing PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT

Fisher, Roger C. The Third Vernacular: Pretoria Regionalism — Aspects of an Emergence: in 1998. Architecture of the Transvaal: pp 123